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Issue 4 - The Right Stuff

Scotland Magazine Issue 4
September 2002


This article is 16 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The Right Stuff

Thanks to a changeable climate, scotland has long been a world leader in the business of producing clothing fit for any weather, as geraldine coates explains

To say it sometimes rains in Scotland is the understatement of all time. Even in the height of summer one sometimes experiences all four seasons in one day, often in one hour. That’s why visitors and residents alike know that when it comes to any outdoor pursuits – walking, fishing, shooting, riding, even a spot of gentle gardening – it’s essential to have the right kit. Luckily we’re spoiled for choice with a vast range of high quality clothing and equipment designed to keep the elements out. And, in these days of globalisation when sweatshop factories in the Far East produce masses of branded clothing, it’s reassuring to know that many of Scotland’s top names in outdoor clothing and accessories still make their products right here using local labour and traditional standards of craftsmanship.

Take Hunters wellington boots for example. Named after their inventor, the Duke of Wellington, the first wellington boots were designed to accommodate the change in men’s fashion from knee breeches to trousers and were made from leather. In 1856, an enterprising American businessman Henry Lee Norris came to Scotland to establish a factory that would manufacture the new style boots in rubber, the new wonder material of the time. Originally based in Edinburgh the company moved to Dumfries in 1946 where, as the Gates Rubber Company, it continues to make what many consider the best field, fishing, agricultural, industrial and safety footwear in the world.

Over its long history the wellington boot has undergone many changes. The green Hunter and the Royal Hunter, specifically designed for Scotland’s rugged hills and unpredictable weather, were introduced in 1958. With their broad fit and sturdy construction they soon became crucial accessories for country folk who appreciated the fact that, unlike ordinary wellingtons, they were supremely comfortable and lasted for years. Nowadays the Hunter is a style classic, the Rolls Royce of wellies with a boot to suit all tastes, from the instantly recognisable Hunter Original with side buckle and cushioned footbed to the top of the range Sovereign complete with leather lining and full length zip. There are also Hunter riding boots and Hunter waders. Each boot is handmade and the company prides itself on combining traditional bootmaking skills with the latest technological wizardry to make a product that is truly world class.

Another world-class product made in Scotland is Gore-tex, the miracle fabric currently found in a vast range of outdoor clothing and equipment from jackets and trousers to golf shoes, skiwear, tents and even bagpipes. W.L. Gore Ltd manufacture Gore-tex and its sister product Windstopper at their UK facility in Livingston and sell to a limited number of specialist manufacturers of high quality outdoor clothing and kit like Berghaus. In fact most of the Berghaus clothing you find in the UK will have ‘made in Scotland’ Gore-tex. One of Gore’s customers is Slioch Outdoor Equipment, a small manufacturer of extreme weather clothing based in the delightful village of Poolewe in Wester Ross. Slioch’s claim to fame is making the clothing for the Scottish RAF Mountain Rescue Teams and Helicopter crews. They also kit out more than 20 civilian rescue teams throughout the UK.

The reason Gore-tex is the first choice for these high quality brands is that it’s less a fabric than a membrane with a porous structure that keeps out the rain and wind but allows the skin to breathe and release perspiration. So it’s the ideal solution for mountaineers, hill-walkers and skiers and those energetic types who like to work up a sweat. Windstopper does pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s a lighter fabric used as a lining, as a windproof fleece in outerwear, gloves, headwear or in the windproof knitwear used in cycling and other fast moving sports. Garments made with Gore-tex and Windstopper fabrics tend to be quite expensive but, as they are highly effective and usually stand up to the roughest of treatments, they’re worth the investment.

For those in search of more traditional low tech outdoor clothing the obvious choices are the old favourites: tweeds, woollens, cashmere, all the things that Scotland is truly famous for. Tweed is made all over Scotland with Harris tweed now a major export. Indeed Harris tweed has a sort of appellation contrôlée in that only tweed made in the Outer Hebridean islands of Harris, Lewis, the Uists and Barra can be described as such by Act of Parliament.

The boom times for tweed as the ultimate outdoor wear started when the owners of large country estates took to designing their own tweeds. They would commission weavers to supply them with a bolt of these individual tweeds to make jackets, deerstalkers and leggings for their ghillies and stalkers. These ‘estate’ tweeds acted as a uniform for the estate workers allowing them to be easily identified. They also provided subtle camouflage since the colours in the tweeds would have been chosen to reflect the muted hues and natural tones of the surrounding landscape. The fashion for tweed outdoor clothing quickly caught on amongst those who came to Scotland for the shooting, fishing and stalking. It’s not hard to see why. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, there is nothing quite like tweed for keeping out the Scottish cold and damp as these sporting visitors soon found out. And, like fine wine, tweed gets better with age.

Today the tweed industry in Scotland thrives, with a vast number of specialist shops offering high quality tailored tweed garments designed with the sportsman in mind. Holland & Holland the famous gunmakers started producing their own exclusive line of clothing and accessories in the 1990s. They use fine Scottish tweeds for a whole range of men and women’s suits, jackets and trousers both for shooting and ordinary every day wear. As does Beretta, another famous gunmaker. Holland & Holland have a flagship store in London, smaller outlets in Paris and New York as well as a concession in Harrods. Beretta clothing is stocked by a selection of upmarket countrywear stores. Specialist country sports centres like Dickson and MacNaughton in Edinburgh offer a wide selection of tweed shooting and fishing jackets some with an added layer of Gore-tex for extra protection. Although many of the popular brands like Hucklecote, Chrysalis and Aigle are based outside Scotland they do use Scottish products in their ranges. There are also many homegrown top sellers like Glengarnock and Hoggs of Fife who make superb quality tweed breeches, plus fours and plus twos as well cords and moleskins.

All over Scotland you’ll find one-stop emporiums supplying everything outdoorsy from gear that will get you up Everest to the classic country style that ensures you look the part on the smartest of shoots. Graham Tiso is a famous name in Scottish mountaineering and the Tiso empire stretches from Edinburgh to all points west and north, selling all the latest clothing, boots and equipment. For traditionalists, famous shops like House of Bruar in Perthshire and Hunters of Brora in Sutherland are worth a visit even if it’s only to stock up on battery operated heated socks, deerstalker hats and other such essential items. And if you’re wondering why Barbour, perhaps the most famous brand in outdoor gear, hasn’t received a lot of attention here, the answer is simple. Barbour is made over the Border, in Northumberland.

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